Alphabets Employees Feel Empowered

May 29, 2017

Discrimination at the workplace is a real issue, including Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Employees now are trying to fight this off by curating complaints and circulating it within the company using weekly newsletter.

According to an article published by Bloomberg titled At Google, an Employee-Run Email List Tracks Harassment and Bias Complaints, the author says:

Yes, at Google tracks allegations of unwelcome behavior at work in an attempt to make the company more inclusive, said the employees, who did not want to be named because they were not authorized to speak about internal company matters.

The list is allegedly managed by a group of employees who redact the personal information before circulating the content. Google though is aware of the list, the company is silent on it considering the fact that no one really knows who is running the list.

So far, the list has yielded positive results. Behavior by employees that do not adhere to company policies or are offensive towards certain sex or people of ethnicity has been handled by the company through regular channels.

Vishal Ingole, May 29, 2017

Innovations in Language Understanding

May 25, 2017

AI and robotics have advanced significantly. However, machines are yet to achieve that level of sophistication in language understanding. The work is in progress as these trends indicate.

Abbyy in an eBook titled Killer Language Understanding Innovations says:

Pioneering advances in natural language processing and machine vision are re-defining the computing landscape. And disrupting every single industry in the process.

One of the major trend is training chatbots to automate the entire customer services. Chatbots if become capable of interacting in natural language, it would revolutionize several industries. Another trend is combining geospatial data with language understanding to thwart terrorist threats.

In a corporate domain, decision making can become easier if AI is able to decipher the data an organization has and provides real-time actionable inputs. Similarly, data extraction which is still is a manual process can be expedited with optical recognition capabilities of machines.

These are few of the trends that are dominating the language innovations. You can read more about it by clicking here.

Vishol Ingole, May 25, 2017

Passion for the Work Is Key to Watson Team HR

May 17, 2017

Have you ever wanted to be on the IBM Watson team? Business Insider shares, “An IBM Watson VP Says He’s Hired Candidates Without Even Conducting an Interview—Here’s Why He’d Hire You on the Spot.” The brief write-up introduces Watson’s VP of HR Obed Louissant, who reveals that he has offered some folks a job they weren’t actually seeking after speaking with them. Writer Áine Cain specifies:

In certain conversations, Louissant says that he’s been blown away by the passion and engagement with which some individuals speak about their work. … ‘It was more about the experience and what types of places they like to work at,’ Louissant says. If the type of workplace happens to sound just like IBM Watson, the branch of the company that focuses on the question answering computer system, then Louissant says he’s willing to make a job offer right then and there.”

So, never underestimate the power of revealing a passion for your work. It could just land you a better job someday, with Louissant or other corporate leaders who, like him, are ready to snap up enthusiastic workers as soon as they recognize them.

Cynthia Murrell, May 17, 2017

AI Might Not Be the Most Intelligent Business Solution

April 21, 2017

Big data was the buzzword a few years ago, but now artificial intelligence is the tech jargon of the moment.  While big data was a more plausible solution for companies trying to mine information from their digital data, AI is proving difficult to implement.  Forbes discusses AI difficulties in the article, “Artificial Intelligence Is Powerful Stuff, But Difficult To Scale To Real-Life Business.”

There is a lot of excitement brewing around machine learning and AI business possibilities, while the technology is ready for use, workers are not.  People need to be prepped and taught how to use AI and machine learning technology, but without the proper lessons, it will hurt a company’s bottom line.  The problem comes from companies rolling out digital solutions, without changing the way they conduct business.  Workers cannot just adapt to changes instantly.  They need to feel like they are part of the solution, instead of being shifted to the side in the latest technological trend.

CIO for the Federal Communications Commission Dr. David Bray said that:

The growth of AI may shift thinking in organizations. ‘At the end of the day, we are changing what people are doing,; Bray says. ‘You are changing how they work, and they’re going to feel threatened if they’re not bought into the change. It’s almost imperative for CIOs to really work closely with their chief executive officers, and serve as an internal venture capitalist, for how we bring data, to bring process improvements and organizational performance improvements – and work it across the entire organization as a whole.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are an upgrade to not only a company’s technology but also how a company conducts business.  Business processes will need to be updated to integrate the new technology, but also how workers will use and interface it.  Businesses will continue facing problems if they think that changing technology, but not their procedures are the final solution.

Whitney Grace, April 21, 2017

The Design Is Old School, but the Info Is Verified

April 5, 2017

For a moment, let us go back to the 1990s.  The Internet was still new, flash animation was “da bomb” (to quote the vernacular of the day), and Web site design was plain HTML.  While you could see prime examples of early Web site design visiting the Internet Archive, but why hit the time machine search button when you can simply visit RefDesk.com.

RefDesk is reminiscent of an old AOL landing page, except it lacks the cheesy graphics and provides higher quality information.  RefDesk is an all-inclusive reference and fact checking Web site that pools links of various sources with quality information into one complete resource.  It keeps things simple with the plain HTML format, then it groups sources together based on content and relevance, such as search engines, news outlets, weather, dictionaries, games, white pages, yellow pages, and specialized topics that change daily.  RefDesk’s mission is to take the guesswork out of the Internet:

The Internet is the world’s largest library containing millions of books, artifacts, images, documents, maps, etc. There is but one small problem in this library: everything is scattered about on the floor, with growing hordes of confused and bewildered users frantically shifting through the maze, occasionally crying out, Great Scott, look at what I just found!’ Enter refdesk.

Refdesk has three goals: (1) fast access, (2) intuitive and easy navigation and (3) comprehensive content, rationally indexed. The prevailing philosophy here is: simplicity. “Simplicity is the natural result of profound thought.” And, very difficult to achieve.

Refdesk is the one stop source to find verified, credible resources because a team dedicated to fishing out the facts from the filth that runs amuck on other sites runs it.  It set up shop in 1995 and the only thing that has changed is the information.  It might be basic, it might be a tad bland, but the content is curated to ensure credibility.

Elementary school kids take note; you can use this on your history report.

Whitney Grace, April 5, 2017

 

U.S. Government Keeping Fewer New Secrets

February 24, 2017

We have good news and bad news for fans of government transparency. In their Secrecy News blog, the Federation of American Scientists’ reports, “Number of New Secrets in 2015 Near Historic Low.” Writer Steven Aftergood explains:

The production of new national security secrets dropped precipitously in the last five years and remained at historically low levels last year, according to a new annual report released today by the Information Security Oversight Office.

There were 53,425 new secrets (‘original classification decisions’) created by executive branch agencies in FY 2015. Though this represents a 14% increase from the all-time low achieved in FY 2014, it is still the second lowest number of original classification actions ever reported. Ten years earlier (2005), by contrast, there were more than 258,000 new secrets.

The new data appear to confirm that the national security classification system is undergoing a slow-motion process of transformation, involving continuing incremental reductions in classification activity and gradually increased disclosure. …

Meanwhile, ‘derivative classification activity,’ or the incorporation of existing secrets into new forms or products, dropped by 32%. The number of pages declassified increased by 30% over the year before.

A marked decrease in government secrecy—that’s the good news. On the other hand, the report reveals some troubling findings. For one thing, costs are not going down alongside classifications; in fact, they rose by eight percent last year. Also, response times to mandatory declassification requests (MDRs) are growing, leaving over 14,000 such requests to languish for over a year each. Finally, fewer newly classified documents carry the “declassify in ten years or less” specification, which means fewer items will become declassified automatically down the line.

Such red-tape tangles notwithstanding, the reduction in secret classifications does look like a sign that the government is moving toward more transparency. Can we trust the trajectory?

Cynthia Murrell, February 24, 2017

Big Data Is a Big Mess

January 18, 2017

Big Data and Cloud Computing were supposed to make things easier for the C-Suites to take billion dollar decisions. But it seems things have started to fall apart.

In an article published by Forbes titled The Data Warehouse Has Failed, Will Cloud Computing Die Next?, the author says:

A company that sells software tools designed to put intelligence controls into data warehousing environments says that traditional data warehousing approaches are flaky. Is this just a platform to spin WhereScape wares, or does Whitehead have a point?

WhereScape, a key player in Data Warehousing is admitting that the buzzwords in the IT industry are fizzing out. The Big Data is being generated, in abundance, but companies still are unsure what to do with the enormous amount of data that their companies produce.

Large corporations who already have invested heavily in Big Data are yet to find any RoIs. As the author points out:

Data led organizations have no idea how good their data is. CEOs have no idea where the data they get actually comes from, who is responsible for it etc. yet they make multi million pound decisions based on it. Big data is making the situation worse not better.

Looks like after 3D-Printing, another buzzword in the tech world, Big Data and Cloud Computing is going to be just a fizzled out buzzword.

Vishal Ingole, January 18, 2017

On-Demand Business Model Not Sure Cash Flow

December 23, 2016

The on-demand car service Uber established a business model that startups in Silicon Valley and other cities are trying to replicate.  These startups are encountering more overhead costs than they expected and are learning that the on-demand economy does not generate instant cash flow.  The LA Times reports that, “On-Demand Business Models Have Put Some Startups On Life Support.”

Uber uses a business model revolving around independent contractors who use their own vehicles as a taxi service that responds to individual requests.  Other startups have sprung up around the same on-demand idea, but with a variety of services.  These include flower delivery service BloomThat, on-demand valet parking Zirx, on-demand meals Spoonrocket, and housecleaning with Homejoy.  The problem these on-demand startups are learning is that they have to deal with overhead costs, such as renting storage spaces, parking spaces, paying for products, delivery vehicles, etc.

Unlike Uber, which relies on the independent contractor to cover the costs of vehicles, other services cannot rely on the on-demand business model due to the other expenses.  The result is that cash is gushing out of their companies:

It’s not just companies that are waking up to the fact being “on-demand” doesn’t guarantee success — the investor tide has also turned.  As the downturn leads to more cautious investment, on-demand businesses are among the hardest-hit; funding for such companies fell in the first quarter of this year to $1.3 billion, down from $7.3 billion six months ago.  ‘If you look in venture capital markets, the on-demand sector is definitely out of favor,’ said Ajay Chopra, a partner at Trinity Ventures who is an investor in both Gobble and Zirx.

These new on-demand startups have had to change their business models in order to remain in business and that requires dismantling the on-demand service model.  On-demand has had its moment in the sun and will remain a lucrative model for some services, but until we invent instant teleportation most companies cannot run on that model.

Whitney Grace, December 23, 2016

Potential Tor Browser Vulnerability Reported

December 19, 2016

Over at Hacker Noon, blogger “movrcx” reveals a potential vulnerability chain that he says threatens the entire Tor Browser ecosystem in, “Tor Browser Exposed: Anti-Privacy Implantation at Mass Scale.” Movrcx says the potential avenue for a massive hack has existed for some time, but taking advantage of these vulnerabilities would require around $100,000. This could explain why movrcx’s predicted attack seems not to have taken place. Yet. The write-up summarizes the technique:

Anti-Privacy Implantation at Mass Scale: At a high-level the attack path can be described by the following:

*Attacker gains custody of an addons.mozilla.org TLS certificate (wildcard preferred)

*Attacker begins deployment of malicious exit nodes

*Attacker intercepts the NoScript extension update traffic for addons.mozilla.org

*Attacker returns a malicious update metadata file for NoScript to the requesting Tor Browser

*The malicious extension payload is downloaded and then silently installed without user interaction

*At this point remote code execution is gained

*The attacker may use an additional stage to further implant additional software on the machine or to cover any signs of exploitation

This attack can be demonstrated by using Burp Suite and a custom compiled version of the Tor Browser which includes a hardcoded root certificate authority for transparent man-in-the-middle attacks.

See the article for movrcx’s evidence, reasoning, and technical details. He emphasizes that he is revealing this information in the hope that measures will be taken to nullify the potential attack chain. Preferably before some state or criminal group decides to invest in leveraging it.

Cynthia Murrell, December 19, 2016

A Crisis of Confidence

December 14, 2016

I remember a time, long ago, when my family was confident that newspapers and TV reporters were telling us most of the objective facts most of the time. We also had faith that, though flawed human beings, most  representatives in Congress were honestly working hard for (what they saw as) positive change. Such confidence, it seems, has gone the way of pet rocks and parachute pants. The Washington Examiner reports, “Fishwrap: Confidence in Newspapers, TV News Hits Bottom.” The brief write-up gives the highlights of a recent Gallup survey. Writer Paul Bedard tells us:

Gallup found that just 20 percent have confidence in newspapers, a 10-point drop in 10 years. TV news saw an identical 10-point drop, from 31 percent to 21 percent. But it could be worse. Of all the institutions Gallup surveyed on, Congress is at the bottom, with just 9 percent having confidence in America’s elected leaders, a finding that is clearly impacting the direction and tone of the 2016 elections. And Americans aren’t putting their faith in religion. Gallup found that confidence in organized religion dropped below 50 percent, to an all-time low of 41 percent.

Last decade’s financial crisis, the brunt of which many are still feeling, has prompted us to also lose faith in our banks (confidence dropped from 49 percent in 2006 to just 27 percent this year). There is one institution in which Americans still place our confidence—the military. Some 73 percent of are confident of that institution, a level that has been constant over the last decade. Could that have anything to do with the outsized share of tax revenue that segment consistently rakes in? Nah, that can’t be it.

Cynthia Murrell, December 14, 2016

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